Monthly Archives: December 2011

Tracking social media with Storify

Next semester, I plan to devote some time in my Reinventing the News course to using Storify, a tool that lets you search and pull together content from across a wide range of media — news stories, tweets, videos, photos and the like — in order to tell a story.

There’s an art to doing it well, so don’t take my first attempt (below) too seriously. Instead, you should have a look at Josh Stearns’ compilation on journalists who have been arrested at Occupied protests around the country. His piece was just recognized (and justly recognized) as the “Storify Story of the Year.”

I also think Storify works well for breaking news when there’s lots of citizen media to sift through. Here is an example from the Valley Independent Sentinel, in Connecticut’s Naugatuck Valley, following a summer storm that moved through the area this past August.

For my first Storify story, I decided to take on the subpoena served on Twitter by the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, which could force the social network to reveal the identity of “Guido Fawkes,” whom the Boston police want to question in connection with something (what, exactly, is unclear) that took place in connection with Occupy Boston. Here’s what I came up with:

View the story “”Guido Fawkes” and the secret subpoena” on Storify]

Media Nation’s top 10 posts of 2011

Clif Garboden

I’ve seen several bloggers list their most-viewed posts of 2011, which made me curious as to which Media Nation posts were accessed most frequently.

I’m not sure exactly what it says — most Media Nation readers simply look at the home page or read it via RSS or email. By contrast, those who click on a specific entry are led there via another blog or social media, which means they comprise a different sort of audience. For instance, according to Google Analytics, the Media Nation home page received 199,143 page views between Jan. 1 and yesterday, whereas the number-one individual item (on radio talk-show host Jay Severin’s return) was accessed just 6,257 times.

In any event, here is my top 10 for 2011.

1. Jay Severin returns to Boston’s airwaves (Aug. 16). This is one of three Severin-related posts in my top 10, which I find puzzling. I didn’t give him a lot of space, and certainly no support. Yet not only did this item rise to the top, but it attracted 28 comments, many from Severin fans who don’t normally post their thoughts here.

2. A rant for the ages against corporate media (Nov. 18). James Craven of GateHouse Media’s Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin wrote a blog post ripping management for deciding “to cannibalize the paper” after he got word that he’d been laid off. The blog post was removed almost immediately — but not before I posted it.

3. Globe outsources online comment screening (April 12). An item on the Boston Globe’s decision to hire a Winnipeg-based company, ICUC, to screen and remove offensive online comments. The post includes several internal documents, including the paper’s complete online-comments policy.

4. Way out of bounds in New Haven (Jan. 26). The New Haven Register’s website posted an online poll asking readers “Who’s the hottest local female television personality?”, complete with photos available for purchase. The Register, under the direction of a progressive new editor since August, is now trying to reinvent its online presence.

5. Jay Severin is suspended — again (March 31). Like I said.

6. GateHouse Media parts company with Greg Reibman (Nov. 9). The debt-burdened chain’s most recent round of layoffs claimed Greg Reibman, publisher of the company’s Greater Boston papers and a respected, forward-looking executive. Check out his new blog, Village 14, about all things Newton.

7. Indies fight back against Patch (May 13). A number of independent local-news-site operators launched a campaign called Authentically Local. The project included a few of my favorites: the New Haven Independent, the Batavian and Baristanet, whose co-founder and editor, Debbie Galant, was the leader of the effort.

8. Clif Garboden, 1948-2011 (Feb. 12). A tribute to the late, great managing editor, photographer and conscience of the Boston Phoenix. Clif was simultaneously a caustic, profane social critic and an unabashed idealist — two qualities that I think are often found together.

9. WTKK fires Severin (April 6). Go figure. Yes, I understand that Severin has a lot of fans and detractors who are interested in reading about him. I’m just surprised at how many of them flocked to Media Nation.

10. Dialing up outrage in New Haven (Feb. 7). The nonprofit New Haven Independent found itself in the midst of a controversy after a custodian it quoted on turmoil within the police department was fired. The Independent crusaded on her behalf, and she was rehired. Commenters, though, were divided on how the Independent handled the issue.

Trying to track down an old Gingrich outburst

Newt Gingrich

I had hoped to stir up a little controversy this week over something Newt Gingrich said a long time ago. But unless someone out there in Media Nation has better documentation than I do, I’m afraid I’m going to fall short.

Here’s what I’m talking about. On Friday and Saturday, May 13 and 14, 1994, I was among three reporters from the Boston Phoenix who covered the Republican State Convention in Springfield. (Also on hand were Al Giordano and Bob Keough.) On Saturday, Gingrich, then well on his way to becoming speaker, delivered the keynote address.

I recall sitting in slack-jawed amazement as Gingrich offered some hate-filled words about disease-ridden Haitians invading our shores while Bill Clinton did nothing about it. (The AIDS epidemic seemed to be centered in Haiti in its early days.) Unfortunately, no one wrote it up according to the online archives I searched.

As best as I can tell, neither the Boston Globe nor the Boston Herald bothered to cover Gingrich’s speech. Neither did the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, though it did quote then-congressman Peter Blute, who introduced Gingrich, as saying, “He energized the base of the party to get out there and work hard for the candidates.”

The Springfield Sunday Republican offered up a few soundbites from Gingrich — but nothing on Haiti and AIDS, as the story focused mainly on Gingrich’s praise for then-governor Bill Weld. “What makes Gov. Weld so different is he understands the obligation not to repair it, not to raise taxes to pay for it, not to prop it up, but to replace the welfare state,” the Republican quoted Gingrich as saying.

The Daily Hampshire Gazette of Northampton got a little more incendiary, with this:

Gingrich also attacked congressional Democrats for what he called, “a provision in the crime bill that establishes a racial quota for murderers,” referring to a section seeking to determine if members of one racial group are being convicted for murder more than others.

But alas, still nothing on Haitians.

I thought I must have written something. So last week I visited the Boston Public Library, where I looked up the issue of the Phoenix that was published the Thursday after the convention. And there was not a word about it. Apparently we had made the decision to cover the event for background purposes on the grounds that no one wanted to read what we had to say five days after the fact. Of course, this being 1994, we weren’t blogging the convention. So if it didn’t appear in the paper, well, it didn’t appear.

In an ironic twist — as Gingrich and Mitt Romney battle it out for the Republican presidential nomination — is that one of the stars of the convention was Romney, who was just beginning his campaign against Sen. Ted Kennedy.

It’s possible that I’ve got a notebook in the attic. But finding it would be a huge challenge, and then I’d have to decipher my handwriting from more than 17 years ago. It’s also possible that I did something with it later in the campaign. But I doubt it, and eliminating that possibility would require several hours with microfilm.

So there you have it — a tantalizing tidbit about Gingrich, just out of reach, less than a week before the Iowa caucuses. If anyone remembers this or has a newspaper clipping, I would love to hear from you.

Photo (cc) by Gage Skidmore and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Arthur Sulzberger’s $15 million headache

In case you missed it, Michael Calderone of the Huffington Post weighed in with a very interesting story Tuesday on turmoil at the New York Times Co. At the top of the list is the $15 million being paid to departing chief executive Janet Robinson, who by all appearances had a falling-out with company chairman Arthur Sulzberger.

No doubt you recall that the Times Co. demanded the Boston Globe’s unions agree to $20 million in givebacks in 2009 as the price of keeping the paper alive. Now Sulzberger has given 75 percent of that money to one person. Yeah, yeah, it’s a one-time expense versus annual savings from the unions, but you get the picture.

The Times Co. this week also followed through on its plan to sell its Regional Newspaper Group, 16 smaller dailies in the South and the West. Media business analyst Ken Doctor tells the Times that the sale price of $143 million was “incredibly low” (indeed: only 9.53 Robinson-size buyout packages), and that the deal buys company executives time to think about whether it wants to keep or sell the Globe.

Following a tumultuous 2008 and ’09, the Times Co. appeared to have achieved some stability, putting its financial house at least somewhat back in order. It looks like that stability may now be coming to an end.

More on Ron Paul’s ties to the racist far right

Ron Paul in 2007

Now that information about Ron Paul’s long-known ties to white-supremacist groups such as Stormfront has finally gone mainstream, it’s time for the media to dig into a particularly incendiary tidbit.

Four years ago, conservative blogger Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs reported that the Vanguard News Network, “one of the ugliest neo-Nazi sites on the Web,” was complaining that Paul had whispered sweet nothings in their ear while taking a very different stance in public.

Johnson reproduced part of a post by Bill White, the “commander” of the American National Socialist Workers Party, who wrote:

Both Congressman Paul and his aides regularly meet with members of the Stormfront set, American Renaissance, the Institute for Historic Review, and others at the Tara Thai restaurant in Arlington, Virginia, usually on Wednesdays. This is part of a dinner that was originally organized by Pat Buchanan, Sam Francis and Joe Sobran, and has since been mostly taken over by the Council of Conservative Citizens.

I have attended these dinners, seen Paul and his aides there, and been invited to his offices in Washington to discuss policy….

Paul is a white nationalist of the Stormfront type who has always kept his racial views and his views about world Judaism quiet because of his political position.

At the time, New York Times blogger Virginia Heffernan made mention of Johnson’s findings and got slapped down in an “editor’s note” for passing along “unverified assertions” and for failing to contact Paul for comment. You can no longer find Heffernan’s post at NYTimes.com, but I wrote about it for the Guardian. I also sent an email to the Times’ then-public editor, Clark Hoyt, asking why a Times blogger was being punished for blogging, but I never received a response.

So when is it appropriate to write about the claims of the “commander” of a neo-Nazi group? I’m not sure there’s a good answer. As Johnson began his item four years ago, “Take this one with a grain of salt, please.” But given that the Times today goes page-one with a detailed report about Paul’s ties to Stormfront and other white-supremacist groups, it seems to me that White’s assertions are relevant and worth checking out.

And given the facts that we now know about Paul, it doesn’t seem too outlandish to believe he might have sat down and broken bread with these hate-mongering whack jobs.

It’s interesting to see this stuff finally going public. As I recall, Paul was doing well in the polls four years ago, too. But I guess since he was in no position actually to win the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary, as he is (or was) today, the executives at major news organizations saw no need to devote the resources needed to investigate Paul’s background.

Paul’s last defense seems to be that though these groups support him, he doesn’t support them, and that he’ll accept help from anyone who offers it. Which means that he may not actually be a racist in the sense of believing that non-whites are genetically inferior to whites. But how finely do Paul’s supporters want to parse this?

And here’s some fresh goodness from Charles Johnson, who has stayed on Paul’s case.

Photo (cc) by R. DeYoung and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

New Haven Public Schools spokesman resigns

Word came last night that Chris Hoffman — the New Haven Public Schools spokesman who grabbed New Haven Independent managing editor Melissa Bailey’s video camera, berated her and could be heard dropping an F-bomb on school property — has resigned.

Hoffman made nearly $79,000, and though I’ve been told he is fundamentally a good guy, he clearly was out of his element in a job that taxpayers probably shouldn’t have been asked to pay for in the first place.

Here’s another account of the incident, by Mary O’Leary of the New Haven Register.

An ugly confrontation leads to an apology

The first time was kind of funny. On Wednesday it got quite a bit uglier than that.

New Haven Independent managing editor Melissa Bailey showed up a little before 10 a.m. at the Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy for a scheduled interview with the principal, Pam Franco. Management of the K-8 school was turned over to a private contractor this year as part of the city’s nationally recognized education-reform program.

Waiting for Bailey was Chris Hoffman, spokesman for the New Haven Public Schools. Hoffman, Media Nation readers may recall, was the star of an amusing video standoff with Bailey last May. This time, though, he jumped ugly when Bailey tried to shoot video of him. He lost his temper, pushed her camera down and can be heard uttering what sounds like an F-bomb into his cellphone as he walks away from her.

He then stomps back toward Bailey with the order: “Turn the camera off.”

Bailey: “Please stop. I’m in a public place, Chris.”

Later in the day, Hoffman contacted the Independent and issued the following statement: “I apologize to Melissa Bailey for my conduct today. It was wrong and unprofessional, and I deeply regret my actions.”

Here is Bailey’s account of what happened.

The great newspaper retrenchment of 2012

I’ve got a piece up at the Nieman Journalism Lab predicting that 2012 will be the year of “the great newspaper retrenchment” — an embrace of paywalls and tradition, and a deliberate turning-away from the need to reinvent a business whose long-term prospects remain bleak.

Nieman’s “Predictions for Journalism 2012″ series is well worth checking out. I plan to sit down and read them all when I get a chance.